Germany Says It Averted Attack on Airport, NATO

German officials say that they've disrupted a terrorist plot to attack Frankfurt's international airport, as well as the U.S. military base at Ramstein. A German federal prosecutor says the three suspects trained in Pakistan and aimed to make bombs larger than those used in previous attacks in London and Madrid.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Germany has thwarted what officials there describe as a massive and imminent terrorist attack. Three men have been arrested. The targets were said to be the busy Frankfurt International Airport and the US military base at Ramstein. A German federal prosecutor says the three suspects had trained in Pakistan and aimed to make bombs larger than those used in previous attacks in London and Madrid. NPR's Emily Harris joins us from Berlin. And Emily, what more is known about these three men?

EMILY HARRIS: Of the three, two of them are German citizens, and one is from Turkey. Authorities here say they have been watching these three for some time because the trio had been seen observing a US military here in Germany at the end of last year. They say after the training in Pakistan, they had formed a German cell of a group called the Islamic Jihad Union. And officials here describe that as a Sunni group with roots in Uzbekistan.

All of the three were getting unemployment benefits through the German government, and the officials said that they spent most of their time working on this plot. All of them were arrested yesterday in one place. One apparently managed to escape out a window for a brief time, but was detained a few hundred yards away.

MONTAGNE: And what do German officials say exactly were their plans?

HARRIS: The exact details haven't been revealed. The thing the officials were really stressing today was the fact that this group of three had obtained about 1,500 pounds of hydrogen peroxide - that common chemical, usually used as a hair bleach, but it can be mixed with different very easily accessible ingredients to make a bomb. And officials were really stressing that that amount was quite significant, as you mentioned that it could have been used to make a bomb that would have been more powerful than those that were used to attack the transit system in London and the trains in Madrid.

There's not an official confirmation from federal prosecutors that the intended targets were the US base at Ramstein and the Frankfurt airport. The chief prosecutor here said that the three men had also been observed surveying night clubs and bars - similar targets like that - that they may have also had in mind.

MONTANGE: And eight suspects were arrested in Denmark yesterday on similar charges. Is there any connection?

HARRIS: There does not appear to be a clear connection at the moment. Of those eight, six of them were Danish citizens and two were permanent residents - very similar types of charges. They were accused of planning to carry out a terrorist attack on an unspecified target - whether that be in Denmark or somewhere else in Europe was not made clear, but the thing that seemed to tip off those arrests was that the group had obtained materials to make a bomb.

MONTAGNE: Emily, this plot comes just days before the sixth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. What's the feeling there in Europe about terrorism at this point in time?

HARRIS: It's a mixed feeling here, Renee. There's a - obviously, the amount of terrorism that has - attacks that have happened in Europe have gone up dramatically in the past six years. And there is a feeling here that Europe is more of a target than is certainly was before. There is also a deep feeling that this is all the US's fault for policies carried out in Afghanistan, and particularly in Iraq. But the debate here is quite divided. There are certainly calls for increased surveillence, even tighter security laws. And there are also people who are saying - as we saw it happen in Spain, for example - there's a debate here in Germany about how committed Germany should be to its service in Afghanistan. Their mission comes up for renewal this fall, and there's a lot of questions about how strictly controlled those soldiers should be, from keeping them out of combat, for example, rather than being involved in reconstruction.

The sympathy for 9/11 was great in Germany six years ago and also in the rest of Europe. And as we saw, starting a couple of years after that, that wore off with certain US policies, and that feeling of unhappiness has stayed among a large part of the population of Europe.

MONTAGNE: Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Emily Harris joined us from Berlin, where German officials say they have thwarted a massive terrorist attack.

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Germany Says Terror Plot Against NATO Base Foiled

German security officials lead one of three terrorist suspects from a helicopter.

German security officials lead one of three terrorist suspects from a helicopter to Karlsruhe's federal court. Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Thomas Lohnes/AFP/Getty Images

Massive terrorist attacks on a major U.S. and NATO military base and international airport in Germany were just days from being carried out when three alleged plotters were arrested, authorities said Wednesday.

The three men, arrested late Tuesday, had trained in Pakistan terror camps and obtained about 1,500 pounds of hydrogen peroxide for making explosives, German federal prosecutor Monika Harms said.

"Possible targets for the suspects were places Americans went - for example nightclubs, bars or airports. In front of those facilities, cars loaded with explosive devices were to have been detonated and a high number of people were to have been killed or injured," said Harms.

A senior U.S. State Department official said the suspects planned to attack Ramstein Air Base — a major U.S. and NATO military hub — and Frankfurt's international airport.

A top German legislator said the group could have struck "in a few days," noting a "sensitive period" that includes the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Officials said the hydrogen peroxide, stored in a hideout, could have been mixed with other additives to produce a bomb with the explosive power of 1,200 pounds of TNT.

"This would have enabled them to make bombs with more explosive power than the ones used in the London and Madrid (transit) bombings," Joerg Ziercke, the head of Germany's Federal Crime Office, said at a joint news conference with Harms.

"There was an imminent threat," German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told ARD broadcaster.

The three suspects - two Germans and a Turk - first came to the attention of authorities because they had been observing a U.S. military facility at the end of 2006, officials said. All three had undergone training at camps in Pakistan run by the Islamic Jihad Union, and had formed a German cell of the group.

The three suspects were brought before judges in a closed proceeding at Germany's Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe after being flown in by helicopter, court officials said.

The Islamic Jihad Union was described as a Sunni Muslim group based in Central Asia that was an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an extremist group with origins in that country.

Prosecutors in Karlsruhe said the arrests were made Tuesday afternoon, and that police had also conducted nationwide searches. The German reports came a day after Denmark authorities said they had thwarted a bomb plot when authorities rounded up eight alleged Islamic militants believed to have links to al-Qaida.

Wolfgang Bosbach, a top legislator for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said that "the suspects had been under observation by security officials for a long time."

"Consequently, we know without any doubt that they were planning attacks that would have had considerable consequences," he told N24 television, adding that the three had acquired chemicals for the plot.

Bosbach said an attack could have occurred "in a few days" and pointed out the Sept. 11 anniversary, as well as parliamentary deliberations in the next few weeks over whether to extend troop mandates in Afghanistan.

Ramstein is one of the best-known U.S. Air Force bases worldwide because it serves as a major conduit for U.S. troops moving in and out of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It is a key transit point for injured troops from Iraq and Afghanistan who are flown there to be taken to nearby Landstuhl.

Besides U.S. personnel, British, French, and other international forces are also located there.

Frankfurt International Airport is Europe's third-busiest airport, handling hundreds of in- and outbound flights to and from the Americas, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. In July, a record 5.2 million passengers arrived or departed from the airport.

German and U.S. officials have warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack, and security measures have been increased. Navy Capt. Jeff Gradeck, spokesman for the U.S. military's European Command in Stuttgart, said German authorities had contacted them concerning the alleged plot, but had no further information.

"We extend our gratitude to Germany for their efforts in protecting us," Gradeck said.

Germany, which did not send troops to Iraq, has largely been spared terrorist attacks such as the train and subway bombings in Madrid and London - although its involvement in the attempt to stabilize Afghanistan against Islamic insurgents has led to fears it might be targeted.

In July 2006, two bombs were placed on commuter trains but did not explode. Officials said that attempt was partly motivated by anger over cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. Several suspects are on trial in Lebanon, and a Lebanese man has been charged in Germany.

The Tuesday arrests in Denmark sent jitters through a country that was the focus of Muslim anger and deadly protests over the cartoons. Jakob Scharf, head of the PET intelligence service, said that the eight suspects arrested were "militant Islamists with connections to leading al-Qaida persons."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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